Air Beat Magazine: January - February 2006


January - February 2006

The London Metro Police Air Support Unit’s Silver Anniversary

Police Aviation In The UK

Calgary’s Eye In The Sky

Expanding Missions South Of The Border

The London Metro Police Air Support Unit’s
Silver Anniversary

Text and Photos by Bryn E. Elliott
Police Aviation News

In the early hours of August 20, 1989, up to 150 young partygoers were dancing the night away and admiring the view of nighttime London from the 90-ton River Thames pleasure boat, Marchioness, as they celebrated the 26th birthday of Antonio de Vasconcellos. Without warning, the vessel was struck from behind by the 1,800-ton ocean going dredger Bow Belle as it passed under Southwark Bridge. The crowded pleasure boat tipped over on its side and sank quickly. Fifty-five people were either thrown from the vessel or dragged below its dark waters in the twisted wreck to their deaths.

Not far away, the Information Room at New Scotland Yard was first alerted, at 0149hrs, by one of the River Police launches. Within two minutes, an orange alert had gone out to some of the best accident and emergency services in the world. Earliest on the scene were police launches, but all types of craft were put to use in a frantic effort to save as many as possible from the murky waters.

At the time the duties of the Metropolitan Police helicopters remained unduly civilized with the unit normally operating until 2200 hours each evening, then relying on the call out of a duty crew of three. Extracted from their warm beds the morning of August 20, the duty officers and the pilot returned to Lippitts Hill and flew to Central London to assist the searchers in looking for survivors with the aid of the high powered searchlight. Sadly, the extended time elapsing between the accident and their arrival precluded any realistic chance of finding survivors.
The same applied to the calling in of the Coast Guard helicopter from Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire and a military ASR Sea King. Although the Bristow Sikorsky S-61N was equipped with a heat seeking FSI FLIR 2000 unit, the sheer distance that each of these helicopters had to cover from its base to London resulted in the rescue helicopters also arriving far too late for life saving.

Today, though, such a tragedy could easily be averted owing to the progress made by police air operations in and around London. The end of November 2005 commemorated 25 years of service for the London Metropolitan Police Air Support Unit, which is now a true 24/7 operation. /p>

This silver anniversary does not mark 25 years of aviation for the Metropolitan Police, however, which actually dates back to 1921, when the government tested ex-wartime airships for use in traffic control.

In subsequent decades, a wide range of aircraft for traffic and crowd control was flown. Many of these operations were at the leading edge of technology, but none led to a permanent air operation. The first use of a helicopter was in 1947, but again, it was not the start of anything consistent. A decade of experiments and a small-scale, fixed-wing operation eventually saw the regular use of light aircraft on traffic control over London. But this was swept aside by a government requirement that banned the use of single-engine aircraft over the Capital.

Helicopters returned to service briefly with an Army trial operating Bell 47G Sioux over London for some weeks. That operation would be the precursor to present day operations using Hughes 300 helicopters after 1970. For just under a decade, single engine helicopters (all of them leased) held influence over London’s undertaking of a broader range of traffic and crime patrols.

However, by the late 1970s, the government had again decreed that police air operations would have to utilize twin-engine helicopters if they were to continue to serve over the capital city. In spite of the dire financial shock waves this sent through New Scotland Yard, the use of helicopters with twin engines was not entirely a new concept in standard police work. Argentinean Police had employed the Bolkow BO105 since 1975, and since 1979, this type was used extensively in Holland and Germany. Uniquely, Qatar ordered the twin-engine Westland Lynx for police use in 1978. And in the murky area beyond the Iron Curtain, police were known to have been using the Mil Mi-2, but that was not a type of operation that many knew a great deal about even many years later.
In many ways, the late 1970s became a watershed for many police flying units. It was a time when new equipment was sought to replace fleets equipped with the Alouette and Bell 47 with more advanced helicopter types of a newer generation. In the late 1970s, the range of twin-engine helicopter models was quite restricted. The agency’s choices for acquisition were narrowed down to the AS365 and the Bell 222 by December of 1978.

Up until the delivery of this new helicopter fleet, all previous air operations in London were undertaken by commercial contractors. The choice was finally made to purchase two Bell helicopters and to build a substantial hangar, workshops, offices and control room at Lippitts Hill. In addition to a paint scheme that mimicked the accepted standard for road vehicles at that time, white with red and yellow stripes, helicopters were to include basic role equipment—a speaker system, a powerful searchlight and a rescue winch.

A major feature of the London Bell 222 fleet was to be the fitting of the Mark 2 version of the Marconi Heli-Tele. This heavy television camera system was a straight graft from a military security system developed for the British Army in its war against the Irish Republican Army in Ulster. Although it had its limitations, it was a world leader in the technology and was to greatly enhance the capability of the new air unit.

Before delivery of the new Bell, the innovative camera system saw critical use in a major international event—the dramatic Iranian Embassy siege. In June of 1980, the Iranian Embassy was taken over in an incident that proved worthy of a few books. Employing the probing eye of Heli-Tele, the yellow police Bolkow was used to provide an aerial monitor of the scene and spent many hours hovering above Hyde Park observing the building. It was on hand to record the final minutes of the assault of the building by members of the SAS. It was reported that more than one television reporter got carried away and mistook the large spherical sensor ball for a "remotely controlled gun turret."

In the United States, the Bell 222 picked up the nickname "triple-deuce," a title that did not travel across the Atlantic to the base of the new operators. Although the appellation was used on a number of occasions by the UK press in their reports on the type, the name did not get used by the police agency.

Throughout its British police service, the Bell 222 was known as the "treble-two," with individual aircraft being identified by a phonetic alphabet rendition of the last letter of the registration. The first aircraft was therefore "alpha."

The first Metropolitan Police Bell 222 helicopter was re-registered from its temporary United States marks to G-META on August 1, 1980. The helicopter arrived at Southampton Docks on August 24 and flew to the Bell agents at Oxford, CSE Aviation Ltd. three days later for fitting with role equipment.

The first full-time police aviation unit with its own aircraft in the United Kingdom was officially launched at Lippitts Hill on November 26, 1980. A fleet of visiting Bell helicopters descended upon Lippitts Hill with official guests.

The Home Secretary of the time, the Rt. Hon. William Whitelaw, later Lord Whitelaw, accompanied by the Commissioner of the day, Sir David McNee QPM, and a gathering of senior police and officials from the Home Office, proudly presented the new aircraft and facilities to the gathered media. The ceremony to officially launch and name the Metropolitan Police Air Support Unit was held inside the hangar and consisted of the Home Secretary removing the force flag and unveiling the force crest on the flank of the Bell and a ceremonial handing over of the aircraft keys to the chief pilot.

With the official hand-over complete, there followed a brief period of operations relying upon the Bo105 as the crews set about learning how to operate the new helicopter type and its new tools. Despite the fact that the duties of the unit had expanded considerably in the years prior to the arrival of the Bell 222, the number of personnel remained almost the same as it was in 1975: an inspector, John Saville, three sergeants and 16 constables.

During this same period, flying times had risen to average around 1,200 hours annually. Following the model of U.S. practice, the unit undertook a respond and patrol flight cycle rather than respond only. It was to be well over a decade before the economics of this policy were called into question. Normal availability of the helicopters remained restricted. Overall, it was initially available on a weekday basis from 0800 hours to 1600 hours or 1400 hours to 2200 hours.

Although the Bells were equipped to fly in bad weather on instruments, there was a tendency to go home if the conditions got particularly "dirty." One result of this operating style was that the unit was not always available when major incidents occurred. Probably the most memorable of these was the collision between the Marchioness and the Bow Belle on the River Thames that claimed 55 lives.

In later years, when police air support came of age in the early 1990s, many acknowledged that the standard of early operations was a bit too laid back. Eventually operational pressures were to change things, and a seven day rotation was imposed.

Now that has all changed. Coming off of its 25th anniversary, the London Metropolitan Police Air Support Unit now has helicopters at the ready during all hours of the day, employing three Eurocopter AS355N helicopters (which are due to be replaced by Eurocopter EC145s in 2006). The anniversary of the unit, marked by a black tie dinner and dance event in a London hotel, provided a suitable opportunity for the Airborne Public Safety Association to meet up with their British and European counterparts.

With these strong international ties, airborne law enforcement in London should only see continued progress over its next 25 years.

Police Aviation In The UK

By Captain Tony Cowan MBE

We’ve come a long way since 1921, when most people would agree that police air support in the United Kingdom began. In that year, the Metropolitan Police in London used the airship R33 belonging to the Royal Air Force to provide an observation platform at one of the famous English horse race meetings, the Epsom Derby. Further ad hoc trials took place with a variety of airplanes, but it was not until the mid-1960s that the Home Office (HO), the government department responsible for policing England and Wales, organized a trial with two helicopters, the Bell 47G and the Westland Scout, both used by the British Army. Following the trial, the HO decided the Bell 47G was slow to get airborne, and, because of its low cruise speed and very limited endurance, its radius of action was too small. The faster Westland Scout with its single turbine engine was preferred, but it was judged to be too expensive for the police budget at that time. Role equipment was limited to a pair of binoculars and paper charts. Any advancement towards the level of air support that we enjoy today would have to wait another 30 years.

Today, the UK has a total of 52 city and provincial police forces: 43 in England & Wales, eight in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland. By far the biggest police force is the Metropolitan Police who, together with the City of London Police, cover the metropolitan area of the capital city, London. Other large police forces include the Greater Manchester Police and, in Scotland, Strathclyde Police who cover Glasgow and surrounding areas. In England and Wales there are 27 individual police air support units. Scotland has one, Strathclyde, and there is one in Northern Ireland. Twenty-one of the individual police forces have a dedicated air support unit, with a further 19 departments grouping themselves into eight consortiums to cover the costs of running one or two helicopters or, in the case of the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police, three helicopters. Nevertheless, despite these cost-sharing arrangements, five English and seven Scottish police forces do not have an air support unit. Moreover, the majority of units are not available for 24 hours a day and shut down their operation at around 0200 hours each morning.

However, right now, the HO is conducting a detailed review of policing in England & Wales with the aim of reducing the number of individual police forces from 43 to around 20 "strategic forces" with 4,000 officers and 2,000 support staff. How this will impact on the provision of air support is, as yet, unknown. It’s possible that with the larger police forces and greater spending power, there could be an increase in the number of aircraft available for law enforcement.

Up until a few years ago, the most popular helicopters in use in the UK were the AS355 Twin Squirrel and Bolkow BO105, but the Eurocopter EC-135 and the MD902 Explorer are now replacing them. Two forces, Devon & Cornwall Constabulary in England and Dyfed-Powys Police in Wales, have bucked this trend and operate the Eurocopter BK117 and the Augusta A109. All these new generation helicopters are equipped with cameras and thermal imagers by FLIR Systems or L-3/Wescam, and all of them have electronic mapping to assist with navigation in rural and urban areas. Each aircraft is operated by a civilian pilot – on contract to the individual police force – and two police air observers, one to operate the camera system and the other to provide navigation assistance to the pilot and radio communication with officers on the ground.

A possible weakness is that very few of the helicopter pilots are rated to fly by reference to instruments alone. Is this a problem? The answer is – not just yet! But, we have arrived at a point where the new IFR capable helicopters, with comprehensive flight instrumentation and autopilots, are being flown by VFR pilots. This anomaly must be judged against the operational environment. In the UK we are blessed with a temperate maritime climate and don’t suffer from the extremes of continental North America. Nevertheless, changes in the weather can be very quick as frontal systems with low clouds and rain arrive from the North Atlantic. These changes from good weather to bad weather are compounded by long winter nights.

Sadly, there have been a number of fatal and near fatal accidents as the result of pilots going "inadvertent IMC" and then becoming disorientated before impacting the ground. In the future the use of night vision goggles will, unfortunately, increase the danger of going IMC in marginal weather. However, at this time there is only one UK police air support unit that uses NVGs on a regular basis, and, sensibly, its pilots have instrument ratings. On this particular point the police may decide to follow the lead of the British military.

"No modern pilot can be considered fully qualified until he has a thorough knowledge of air traffic control procedures and a sound basic skill in instrument flying," says the Royal Air Force Manual of Elementary Flying Training.

To this point I haven’t mentioned fixed-wing operations, but this is, I believe, where we will see some exciting developments in the near future. In the UK there are only four police forces, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Hampshire and Northern Ireland, which use airplanes on a regular basis. Of these, the Greater Manchester Police may be regarded as a model for the future with a helicopter, an MD902 Explorer, used for reactive tasking, and a BN Defender 4000 used for air support in operations against serious and organized crime. In the past, before the high quality cameras of today, it was necessary to fly slowly and close to the ground to stand any chance of spotting a criminal or a missing person. But modern cameras, such as the L-3/Wescam MX-15 and the FLIR StarSafire, have a zoom magnification and thermal sensitivity that we could only dream about a few years ago. With these cameras a felon can be targeted from several thousand feet and from an airplane that is virtually invisible.

To the budget manager there is the added attraction of an aircraft that will cost a third as much to purchase and significantly less to operate. In simple terms you can purchase three fully equipped police airplanes for the price of one helicopter. What’s more, the airplane will be fully equipped for flight on instruments, and it will be cleared for flight in icing conditions. These attributes are particularly useful if you have to operate in a dark rural environment with limited visual references, or if you have to cross a mountain range at night or fly through adverse weather to reach the area of operations. These may not be new ideas, but it is now, in the face of rising costs, that they are gaining ground on both sides of the pond.

For the UK operator, the potential savings are even greater due to the very high cost of aviation fuel, and, as we know, helicopters consume a significantly greater amount of fuel than airplanes of an equivalent size. (And in the UK there is an additional factor: to operate at night, police aircraft must have two engines.) At this time the price of Jet-A1 in the UK is around $3.90 per US gallon with AVGAS costing $10 per gallon!

Spurred on by the high cost of aviation fuel, particularly AVGAS, there has been a determined effort in Europe to develop diesel aero-engines (compression ignition as opposed to spark ignition) fuelled by Jet-A1. The leaders in this field of aero-engine technology are Thielert in Germany and SMA in France. These engines are 30 percent more fuel efficient than spark ignition engines of a similar size, and because they use Jet-A1, the cost of fuel may be reduced from around $300 to $82 per flight hour for a twin-engine airplane. They will burn 21 US gallons of Jet-A1 per hour instead of 30 US gallons of AVGAS; that’s a savings of $218,000 per 1,000 flight hours at UK prices.

The European leaders in the application of this new technology are Vulcanair in Italy and Diamond in Austria. Vulcanair is well on the way to certification of the popular P68 Observer, in which a pair of SMA aero-diesel engines will replace the "bullet proof" Lycomings. In Austria, Diamond is pushing ahead with the development of their DA42 Twin Star with Thielert diesels under the designation Multi-Purpose Platform (MPP). This aircraft will have a state-of-the-art camera system mounted in the nose.

But, can the airplane produce the same crime fighting results as its helicopter stable mate? Surprisingly, yes. I say this because of my own experience as a former military pilot with over seven years of experience in police air support operations, including involvement in 476 arrests and the recovery of large amounts of stolen property. Furthermore, one UK police force, when operating an airplane and helicopter alongside each other, found that the "hit rate," the number of arrests per tasks flown, for the bread and butter jobs of a search at the scene of a crime and vehicle pursuit was 25 percent for the helicopter and 27 percent for the airplane; the airplane had a better hit rate than the helicopter! The reasons for this are quite complex, but contributing factors may have included the fact that the airplane, flown by a pilot with an instrument rating, could operate in a rural area with a minimum of cultural lighting when the helicopter, flown by a VFR pilot, would have to turn back. Also, because of its better endurance, the airplane could remain in an operating area for an extended period to carry out a thorough search or complete a time-consuming surveillance mission.

Nevertheless, any well-founded unit will, budget permitting, follow the example of the Greater Manchester Police and operate an airplane and a helicopter alongside each other, or, as we say in the UK, follow a policy of "mix and match."

Calgary’s Eye In The Sky

By Mark McWhirter

It is an understatement to say that these are exciting times for the Calgary Police Service Air Services Unit. Last year marked a decade of continuous service for Canada’s first municipal police helicopter. Although other operations have started in the country, Calgary is still the basis for a wealth of knowledge and operational success.

The Helicopter Air Watch for Community Safety program began as a research project in 1992. Although the project was highly successful, it was deemed too expensive to operate. The project was temporarily put aside until the time came that the CPS budget would allow such an operation.

Tragedy struck the Calgary Police Service on October 8, 1993 when constable Rick Sonnenberg was killed in the line of duty while trying to stop a stolen vehicle. But out of tragedy came triumph when Lisa Barrett, the fallen officer’s sister, stepped forward to establish a memorial fund to purchase a police helicopter. The Constable Rick Sonnenberg Memorial Society raised $1.8 million and purchased an MD Helicopters MD-520N. On June 30, 1995 the society officially presented HAWC 1 to the Calgary Police Service Air Services Unit.

The objective of HAWC 1 is to respond to situations where a life is at risk, a crime is in progress or any other time it can be of assistance. The helicopter has proven particularly effective in responding to vehicle pursuits because it minimizes the risk to civilians and officers. The helicopter provides real-time information on road conditions and upcoming traffic to officers on the ground from a unique aerial perspective.

The Calgary Fire Department and Calgary Police Service have an agreement that allows HAWC 1 to be used in any situation where it can be of assistance. The CFD purchased a Bambi Bucket to deal with local grass fires, and it was donated to HAWC 1. The helicopter is often called for assistance in search and rescue roles on the Bow River and has saved countless lives in the process. HAWC 1 is even showcased at various community events around the Calgary area.

The unobstructed and unique view from the air allows officers on the ground a valuable asset and another perspective of the evolving events. The helicopter is able to respond to calls effectively, efficiently and, most importantly, safely. "It is a force multiplier," says Detective Mike ter Kuile when discussing the value of HAWC 1 to the CPS.

HAWC 1 patrols the city of Calgary seven days a week and is on call 24 hours a day. In its 10 years of service, HAWC 1 has responded to over 35,000 calls with an average response time of less than two minutes. The helicopter serves as a highly visible form of crime deterrence by circling overhead of high-crime areas, either with the spot light on (overt) or off to maintain secrecy (covert).

The MD Helicopters MD520N is a small helicopter that is well suited to police forces around the world. It proves a stable platform for deploying officers and is adaptable to many different configurations. At the time of purchase, the MD520N was one of the quietest helicopters available—an asset for police service. The NOTAR system cuts down on noise complaints from citizens during the night.

The Calgary Police Service has equipped its helicopter with a variety of crime fighting and prevention tools. A Spectrolab SX-16 Nightsun searchlight allows the tactical flight officer to illuminate open areas or focus on a fleeing suspect. A Wescam 16DS-A infrared camera is able to detect radiant heat sources or hotspots in the dead of night. HAWC 1 is also equipped with police and fire radios to communicate with ground personnel in any situation.

Since its inception, the Air Services Unit has grown to include four tactical flight officers, four pilots and two engineers as full time staff, and another three tactical flight officers work on a part time basis. The unit is a tight knit group that values teamwork and safety.

The Calgary Police Service employs civilian pilots, which minimizes risk and initially allowed for the unit to start operations earlier because candidates were already experienced pilots. That fact also allows for lower training costs because applicants start with higher capabilities and an existing foundation of experience.

Tactical flight officers are selected through a rigorous selection process. Applicants are required to have at least three years of Calgary Police Service tenure before they can apply to become a member of the Air Services Unit. Applicants must undergo a physical, complete an interview and pass the required training.

The two full time engineers are responsible for all day-to-day maintenance including airframe and engine maintenance, as well as repairs to the attached police equipment on the MD520N. The engineers are a significant part of the HAWCS team and undergo extensive training.

As with any other rotary-wing operator, the CPS faces challenges in the daily operation of HAWC 1. In addition to the standard industry hurdles of rising fuel and insurance costs, the CPS also faces human resource and budget constraints. Regardless of the obstacles faced, the Air Services Unit has found a way to successfully meet the needs of the city on a consistent basis.

The Calgary Police Service was the first municipal police force in Canada to take advantage of the unique benefits that an aerial platform offers. The unprecedented move forced the CPS to look south for inspiration and logistical assistance. The Calgary model was constructed from the best attributes of various American police operations—particularly those in California.

The HAWC 1 model is unique and tailored to Calgary and its citizens’ needs. The Calgary Police Service has also found itself to be a valuable resource to other Canadian municipalities with helicopter operations, or those looking to start one. In the past 10 years, the CPS has amassed a working knowledge of the helicopter industry through the valuable experience gained from operations.

The citizens of Calgary are strong supporters of HAWC 1 and the community safety it provides. But after patrolling Calgary’s skies for over 10 years, HAWC 1 is nearing a need for extensive maintenance. To avoid a lapse in aerial policing, the HAWC 2 lottery was started as a onetime event to address the need for a second helicopter. In partnership with the Rick Sonnenberg Memorial Society, the Calgary Police Service was able to raise over $1 million for the purchase of a second aircraft.

The Eurocopter Colibri EC-120 was selected by the CPS to complement the existing MD-520N. The EC-120 has grown in popularity with police forces around the world and has become the premier rotary-wing law enforcement platform. Two Canadian municipalities already operate the EC-120 – the Edmonton Police Service Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Vancouver and the York Regional Police.

The EC-120 boasts modern technology and a strong support system from Eurocopter Canada, which enables it to operate more efficiently when compared to the older MD-520N. The EC-120 is as quiet as the existing helicopter – something that is of great significance when operating in an urban area. Although each aircraft has its own unique noise signature, both get fewer noise complaints than conventional tail rotor equipped aircraft. The EC-120 is larger than the existing MD-520N and will be fitted with updated crime fighting tools.

The Calgary Police Service Air Services Unit will be moving into a new hangar on the Southeast corner of the Calgary International Airport in early 2006. The new facility will offer increased space for the addition of the second helicopter.

HAWC 1 could not operate without the immense community support it has earned. It has proved highly effective during its first decade of service—it will certainly continue to excel with the addition of HAWC 2.

Although the Airborne Public Safety Association is an American-based organization, it unites the airborne policing community internationally. Detective Mike ter Kuile, APSA Canadian Regional Director, calls the APSA "a nucleus of knowledge." The APSA allows agencies to learn from each other and benefit from the experience of other agencies.

The APSA has proved to be a valuable resource for HAWC 1 by providing the latest techniques and tactics applicable to it. All pilots and tactical flight officers are sent annually to attend APSA briefings and recurrent training as a form of ongoing education. The ability to network with their peers and the professional development gained from the APSA has aided the continued success of HAWC 1 and its crew. 

Expanding Missions South Of The Border

By Greg Bourland
Texas Department of Public Safety

Chihuahua ("Chi-Wau-Wah") is Mexico's largest region with over a quarter of a million square miles of territory occupying nearly 13 percent of the nation’s total land space. It shares a long land border with the United States and is approximately 250 miles from El Paso, Texas. Policing such a large, crucial area is no easy task.

Chihuahua is also a land of magnificent scenery with mountains, canyons, deserts and fresh, clean air. Its spectacular canyons are the biggest in North America, and within the canyons are beautiful waterfalls, one of which is the highest in Mexico. Chihuahua also contains fertile valleys, orchards and crop fields.

To help preserve the majesty of this vast region, the Chihuahua Police Department began an airborne law enforcement program with a Bell 206B3 helicopter named "Halcón Uno" in 2002. Based at the Chihuahua Police Department’s headquarters in Chihuahua City, the Air Operations Unit responds to various emergencies and tasks supporting patrol and special operations. Other activities include surveillance, NVG operations and EMT deployment to help provide Chihuahua City with the fastest and most professional response available.

Captain Mauricio Olivares is the Commanding Officer of the Air Operations Unit, which consists of two pilots, 10 tactical flight officers, three maintenance technicians, two dispatchers and administrative personnel.

The missions of the Air Operations Unit are designed exclusively to achieve department goals as they relate to community service and officer safety. When utilizing Halcón Uno, fewer ground-based officers are required at crime scenes and perimeters, and officers are kept in tactical advantage and out of questionable situations.

The APSA’s Central Region has long tried to gain a stronger membership footing and greater participation from its Latin neighbors in Central and South America. For the first time in APSA history, the Central Region now has a co-director who is south of the border. Mauricio Olivares has been appointed to this position, and his impressive background will make him a well-respected voice for APSA in Mexico.

Chief Olivares attended the University of Commercial Marketing, where he received an International Business Degree. Then it was off to the Military Academy for three years, which led to 13 years in the Mexican Air Force, where he attained the rank of Captain. While in the Air Force, he flew UH-60 Blackhawks, Bell 212s and MD-530s. He then worked two years for Pemex Petroleum Mexicanos, flying to offshore oil rigs in Bell 412s and Sikorsky 76s. It was then that he first joined the Chihuahua State Police, where for three years he flew the Bell 206 L4. Next, Chief Olivares went to work for the PGR (a Mexican federal agency equivalent to the DEA in the U.S.). There, he flew the UH-1H Huey (the PGR has 90 of these). Finally, about two to three years ago he was hired into his current position.

Flying approximately 1,200 hours annually, the Chihuahua Police Department Air Operations Unit’s missions include support of police ground units, search and rescue and medevac operations. They respond to locations as far as 100 miles away throughout the State of Chihuahua. The unit currently flies a Bell 206 B3 equipped with a Wescam MD-12, a Spectrolab SX-5 spotlight and night vision goggles. It is possible that they may receive donated, decommissioned helicopters in the future, either a UH-1H from the New Mexico State Police or two OH-58s from the Albuquerque (New Mexico) Police Department.

In January, members of Chief Olivares’ unit will be training with the Albuquerque Police Department. Both Olivares and his pilot will attend an NVG course, while two of his TFOs and one K-9 unit will attend tactical flight officer school. In November, Chief Olivares is hopeful that his department will travel to Austin, Texas to tour and train with the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Aircraft Section and attend the APSA Central Region Safety Seminar in San Antonio.

Chief Olivares previously attended APSA’s annual conference in San Antonio and has been an APSA member since 2001. He says that as chief of a law enforcement air unit, he is strongly committed to two goals: safety and training. He is committed to APSA and his role as Mexico’s co-director because he knows that these are the primary goals of APSA as well. He believes that attending APSA Safety Seminars and Annual Conferences affords the opportunity to obtain valuable training specific to airborne law enforcement, to see the latest in airborne law enforcement technology and to simultaneously provide networking opportunities within our profession.

APSA thanks Chief Olivares for accepting the responsibility and position of Central Region Co-Director for Mexico and knows that with his assistance, we can expand the benefits of APSA membership far south of the border.